With the second child 17 months old, I have finally relaxed enough to parent her, and her older brother, with the confidence that only comes with experience.
Not that I’m an expert by any means. I often seek the advice or reassurance from a variety of sources, including blogs, friends, even my own mother. But in the end, I do what feels right. For me, for the family, for the child in question.
We have been known to co-sleep with the kids. I vehemently reject the idea that a child once invited into the parents’ bed will never willingly leave again. I did it for reasons that may seem incredulous to some, but the ultimate driving force was always the same: to get enough sleep.
Benjamin just turned 4. He has his own room which he will have to share with his sister as soon as she graduates the crib. He has a bed in his room and he goes to it ever single night without any fuss or ado. And he sleeps through the night.
He did not sleep through the night till well after age 1. If I had left him in my bed, or kept him in my bed, or took him into my bed, whenever the urge hit, we would have all gotten more sleep in that first year. He cried for me. He clung at me. He did not handle teething well and wanted my body for comfort. And I gave it to him whenever he felt like it, but sat in a chair in his room.
He has to learn to fall asleep on his own, they said. And he has to learn how to fall back asleep on his own.
Well. Fatigue overcame me, and I decided that, at 14 months, he was old enough to be on a mattress on the floor by himself. Two weeks later he got a bed, and by then he was, mostly, sleeping through the night.
And I cried….
Oh I missed the co-sleeping with him. I missed it when he would come to me when he couldn’t fall asleep. He was the cutest thing as a toddler, and had this whole procedure he followed. His favorite thing was to arrive at the side of my bed with a soother in his mouth, his “other Bello” stuffed dog in one hand, in the other he clutched “imposter Bello” for me, a white lamb, and a blue baby lamb. He would giggle slyly, then wait to be lifted into his spot (daddy was an airline pilot at the time and often away overnight). Getting comfortable on daddy’s side took some time, and I would lie beside him, watching with interest how he struggled into a comfy sleeping position.
He was so cute. First, the pillow got adjusted. Then, his toys would need to be placed by him just so. Assurance that “imposter Bello” had his designated spot beside mommy, he would finally settle down, reaching a pudgy little toddler hand over to hold my hand. This is how we would fall asleep. By holding hands.
It made me feel good to know that he was secure and warm and safe and cozy right there beside me. It felt so natural.
Oh, I took him to his bed if he twitched in his sleep. Toddlers don’t sleep in one position. And eventually he got older and bigger and I got tired of having various body parts pushed up against me. But none of this took away from the falling-asleep-together routine we developed.
It was wonderful. Good thing I documented my thoughts even back then.
Today, he sometimes still climbs in with me. Usually if he’s fighting something off or is sick with a cold. Sometimes, because he feels lonely or can’t fall asleep. But most of the time, he is in his bed and sleeps through the entire night without a peep. And he made that transition on his own, prior to his sister arriving (and taking over his spot beside mommy).
I am convinced that having given him what he needed then has made him a good sleeper now. Which is why I applied a similar tactic with the second baby.
The second baby is a very different sleeper than her brother was. She is a terrible sleeper, but has, over time, learned to sleep better. Ironically, as I sit here typing this post, it is in the middle of the night and she is sleeping soundly without waking up at all. It is me who is battling insomnia…
Sonja was such a terrible sleeper that I put her crib into my bedroom. I positioned it in such a way that if she was out of the crib and in bed with me, her crib would prevent her from falling out on that side (daddy took his pillow to the spare bed during her nightly antics). But even in bed with me, she sleeps very differently from Ben.
Sonja is like an amoeba. When she wants contact, she wants direct, physical contact. She clings to me, often demands to nurse, and wants to be cuddled as tight as possible. While I was still able to swaddle her, I did, and that gave her the comfort she was seeking. As long as her face was next to my chest.
But she’s a wild one, this one. She kicked out of her blankets, and often her pj bottoms, in infancy, never really took to a pacifier (sometimes, yes, sometimes, no), does not insist on, and often rejects, a stuffed toy to clutch, and is still, at 17 months, nursing at least once a day (at just before bedtime).
And I allowed her to sleep with me whenever she wants to.
The thing with her sharing my bed though was a lot harder than with Ben. Oh, I like it just as much, squeezing her little toddler body snugly against me just the way she likes it, but she doesn’t lie still. And she talks and whines and moans and cries and sings in her sleep. And she twitches and kicks. The moment her breathing becomes regular, I put her in her crib.
This method had worked for us, and she is now at a point where she sleeps through the night about 50% of the time. Oh, she wakes up. Consistently. But unless she specifically asks for me, I don’t react to her noises.
Tonight, at about 2 am, I heard her cry. But it was clear she wasn’t awake. After an hour of listening and not falling back asleep myself, I got up. Sleep eluides me, but typing about sleep is easy. The words are coming out without any trouble. I have silence and peace, at almost 4 am.
It’s insanity, but at least my kids are sleeping.